Anna Deavere Smith to speak

Celebrated actor, playwright, and activist Anna Deavere Smith will deliver the convocation address at Bryn Mawr's 115th commencement on Saturday, May 15.

Smith, the winner of a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" and the founder of the Institute on Art and Civic Dialogue at Harvard University, is a professor at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. As the creator of a new genre of documentary performance, Smith has been called "the most exciting individual in American theater" by Newsweek.

Smith is best known in the theater world for her groundbreaking solo performances, including the Obie Award winners Fires in The Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, both of which address highly visible racial conflicts.

Fires in The Mirror and Twilight are part of a body of work Smith calls "On the Road: The Search for American Character." She has been creating these documentary monologues for more than 20 years, based on interviews with thousands of people about their experiences.

Beckman chosen for new memorial
Julie Beckman '95, while completing her work on the Pentagon Memorial, is beginning another project: the Space Shuttle Columbia Memorial in Nacogdoches, TX. The memorial will honor the seven crew members who died on February 1 2003, the space shuttle program at large, and the recovery efforts of everyone in and around Nacogdoches.

KBAS, the design firm of Beckman and her partner, Keith Kaseman, was selected by the Space Shuttle Columbia Memorial Fund, who invited 30 architects, landscape architects, and artists from around the country to submit portfolios. Of the 22 portfolios received, four were chosen as finalists and invited to interview with the design committee. In December 2003, the committee announced its choice of Beckman and Kaseman, praising their fresh approach to exploring architecture in new ways and their expression of respect for the project.

The Alumnae Bulletin featured KBAS's plans for the Pentagon Memorial, honoring the individuals who lost their lives on 9/11/01, on its summer 2003 cover. "The biggest difference between the Pentagon Memorial and the Shuttle Memorial is that there is no design yet for the Shuttle Memorial," Beckman says. "We were selected based on our body of work, and now we will begin the design phase. The site is small and right in the center of the old downtown of Nacogdoches, not far from where several pieces of debris were found." KBAS is conducting research for the project in conjunction with NASA.

At the invitation of Bryn Mawr's Washington, D.C. Club, Beckman discussed the Pentagon Memorial 3/2/04 at the Carnegie Institution.

The Picturing Women project opened at Bryn Mawr's Canaday Library on January 23 with a specially commissioned performance (above) by the Spiral Q Puppet Theater. Co-sponsored by Bryn Mawr's Center for Visual Culture, the William Penn Foundation, and the Women's Caucus for Art of Philadelphia, Picturing Women explores historical and contemporary representation of women in words and pictorial narrative. As a part of the project, scholars and artists convened at Bryn Mawr on March 19 for a three-day cross-disciplinary symposium. Visit the Picturing Women site.

Bold new BMC website
A bold new look and efficient navigation structure are among the features of Bryn Mawr's newly redesigned Web site, launched on January 16, 2004. A key improvement to the site is its dynamic "gateway" pages tailored to different groups of intensive users: prospective undergraduates, current students, faculty, staff, alumnae/i and parents.

A rotating slide show on the home page illustrates themes that translate Bryn Mawr's values into the language most likely to appeal to prospectives-professors and students as colleagues; leadership through innovation; a community of equals; meaningful impact on the world; intellectual freedom leading to independence; and undergraduate education on an honors level.

The individual gateway pages feature news headlines, weather, and reminders of deadlines and events, as well as automatically updated material tailored to each group.

A campus-wide task force, the Web Advisory Group (WAG), along with staff in the Information Services Department, Public Affairs Office, and Admissions Office, worked with the higher-education marketing firm Generation and Web-design partner Tellart to create a new look for the site. The content of the horizontal navigation bar was developed with the advice of an information-architecture consultant.

WAG made use of substantial research into users' preferences in developing the site and asked representatives of various groups to preview it. The Alumnae Association's Electronic Communications Task Force, which helped determine the content for the alumnae/i gateway, offered valuable comments on the whole site during the preview stage. "In the month before launch, Kimberly Blessing '97 generously offered solutions to some programming challenges, such as the loading time of the home page," said WAG member and Public Affairs Director Nancy Collins. "Her expertise and consultation with the Web designer improved the functioning of the site."

An important innovation in the gateway pages concerns not what's on them, but who's behind them. The College's site is a collaborative construction, with each gateway maintained by a staff member who is in regular contact with its user group. Managers in individual departments and offices determine the content of their own pages and update them as changes occur. Training and resources for Web stewards was high on the WAG's list of priorities through the redesign and beyond. Instructional Technology offers frequent workshops for the campus community as a part of the ongoing effort.

Black History Month
In her keynote address for Black History Month at Bryn Mawr, poet and essayist Nikki Giovanni spun this year's theme, "Black History Is America's History: Giving Voice to Silence," into orbit.

Professor of English and the Gloria D. Smith Professor of Black Studies at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Giovanni began her monologue by professing enthusiasm for NASA's space program. "If I had my way there'd be a shuttle every day, with a lottery for every 10th person on Earth," she said. "Why? The reason people don't understand space is that most don't know anyone who went into space. The most important thing we want to do in the 21st century is to go to Mars, because Mars can't come here. If Mars came here, people who don't even speak to each would get together to hunt down and kill Martians. They'd be that excited."

As Giovanni read from her poem, "Quilting The Black Eyed Peas, We're Going to Mars," the laughing audience began to quiet as she made her analogy between space travel and the African slave experience of the Middle Passage: "Mars is one year's travel to get there plus one year living on Mars plus one year to return-three years of earthlings being in a tight spot, going to an unknown place with an unsure welcome awaiting them ... tired bones ... harsh conditions and no known landmarks ... Only a hope and a prayer that they will be shadowed beneath a benign hand ... the trip to Mars can only be understood by black Americans."

Giovanni's first two collections of poetry, Black Feeling, Black Talk (1968) and Black Judgement (1969) gave voice to black consciousness and revolutionary impulses and established her as a major figure in the Black Arts Movement, a loose coalition of African-American intellectuals who produced politically and artistically radical work. Her lifelong determination to tell the truth as she sees it and her prolific output in a variety of genres have ensured her enduring prominence in the world of letters as well as the black consciousness movement.

From left: Nikki Giovanni, Nia Turner '05 and Florence Goff, Associate Chief Information Officer for Bryn Mawr's Information Services.Photos copyright Paul D. Somerville III.

Black History Month organizers Alnisa Bell '06 and Nkenge Ho-Shing '06 of Sisterhood, the African-American students' organization, worked with numerous co-sponsoring organizations representing diverse interests on campus to put the program together. "We wanted to stress the theme that black history is America's history," said Ho-Shing. "It's genuinely relevant to everybody, not just a restricted minority."

The series included a performance by the Chuck Davis African Amer-ican Dance Ensemble and a screening of "NO! (A Work-in-Progress)," a documentary about intraracial rape in the black community by independent filmmaker Aishah Simmons.

Assistant Professor of History and Africana Studies Kalala Ngalamu-lume lectured on the impact of witchcraft in Africa. Beliefs and practices associated with witchcraft have had a significant effect on African history and continue to play a role in shaping the continent's political and economic development, he said. Belief in what he called the "negative" manifestation of witchcraft, that certain people can harm others through occult or magical power, is widespread across sub-Saharan Africa, he said. Witches are believed to inhabit nearly every village and belong to every clan. This close association of witchcraft with traditional family and social structures has an important impact on patterns of economic development.

Many African heads of state are also believed to use occult specialists, in the "positive" or defensive sense, to protect their power and to escape assassination plots or coups d'E9tat. "In places where dictators are using these practices, many people around them believe that the dictators are invulnerable and resistance is futile," he said. "This obviously has strong implications in the transitions of developing nations to democracy."

In another lecture, Swarthmore College sociologist Sarah Willie discussed the impact a college experience can have on racial identity. Willie, who coordinates the Black Studies Program at Swarthmore, compared the experiences and attitudes of graduates of a historically black university with those of African-Americans who graduated from a predominantly white university. She drew on her recently published book, Acting Black: College, Identity and the Performance of Race, which is based on research as well as her experience as a student at Haverford (class of 1986) and as an exchange student for a semester at Spelman College, a historically black women's college in Atlanta.

"The semester at Spelman was in some ways a wonderful antidote to my experience at Haverford," said Willie, "both as a historically black college and as a women's college. But I was expecting Spelman to be a utopia, and I found that it had its own problems."

Willie said that her white friends from college are often surprised to learn how significantly her experience of Haverford differed from theirs when they read her book. Her experience and her research at both majority-black and majority-white institutions illustrate "the ways inequality, but also various forms of prejudice, are likely to be reproduced in any setting," she said. Acting Black offers suggestions for colleges and universities seeking to make their campuses truly multicultural.

Bryn Mawr's month-long celebration culminated in the annual culture show produced by Sisterhood. Directed by Rochelle Merilien '06 and Audrey Flattes '07, and written collaboratively by members of Sisterhood, the show looked at African-American history through the eyes of Essence duNoir, played by Alice Goldsberry '07. Essence, a Bryn Mawr student, is trying to write a paper on African-American heritage while visiting her parents' home during Spring Break when the show opens. She consults her grandmother, and the sketches that follow in the show reveal an oral history stretching all the way back to Africa.

Drabble and Hecht read
Sponsored by the Lucy Martin Donnelly Women Writers Series Fund, Novelist Margaret Drabble read from her work on March 16 in Thomas Great Hall as part of Bryn Mawr's Visiting Writers Series. On March 29, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anthony Hecht also read from his work as the sixth event in the Creative Writing Program's 2003-04 Reading Series, sponsored by the Marianne Moore Fund for the Study of Poetry and the Whitehill-Linn Fund.

African-American archive
Stanford University Special Collections and Art and Architecture Library have jointly acquired an extensive archive on photographer, film-maker and author Gordon Parks from Dallas journalist Barbara Kevles '62. Parks was the first black photographer at the Farms Security Administration, the first black photojournalist at Life magazine, and the first black director for a major Hollywood studio. "Parks is a ground-breaking titan of the 20th century," said Roberto Trujillo, Stanford's head of Special Collections. The primary sources in the Kevles archive are critically important for any future work on Parks. They will prove essential to scholars and students of African American History."

Kevles acquired her Parks archives through assignments for national publications, including a report on Parks' battle against Paramount's racist marketing and distribution of his fifth and final feature, "Leadbelly," for the Village Voice.

Architectural retrospective
Haverford's Cantor-Fitzgerald Gallery hosted a multimedia exhibition January 23-February 22 to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Philadelphia architecture firm headed by Daniela Holt Voith '76 and Cameron John Mactavish.

Voith, a senior lecturer in architectural design at Bryn Mawr in Growth and Structure of Cities, was part of the first class to graduate from this program, in which students study the relationship of urban spatial organization to politics, economics, culture and societies.

"Voith & Mactavish Architects (LLP): A Retrospective (1988-2003)" featured many of the firm's local projects, such as the renovation and expansion of Moore College of Art & Design, the rehabilitation and addition to the Frank Furness-designed Paul Peck Alumni Center at Drexel University, and the renovation of Thomas Great Hall at Bryn Mawr College. The exhibit included examples from VMA's extensive portfolio of hand-rendered conceptual sketches, two-and-three-dimensional renderings, models, large and small scale photographs, and original watercolor renderings by Mactavish.

A catalogue published collaboratively by Haverford and Bryn Mawr included articles co-authored by Growth and Structure of Cities program founder Professor Emeritus Barbara Miller Lane and Professor of History of Art David Cast. In connection with the retrospective, Mactavish provided a watercolor demonstration at the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery.

In a January 28 lecture for Bryn Mawr's Center for Visual Culture, "On Being Modern," Voith explained "how it has come to be and why is it that VMA defines its work as modern without looking modern.

"The work shown at the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery straddles seemingly very divergent attitudes towards what one commonly thinks of as modern," she said. "Our work ranges from the frankly historicist to work that looks very contemporary, and sometimes that divergence occurs within the same building.

"We look to innovation within the context of tradition, taking traditional forms and molding them to contemporary plan needs and uses," Voith said. "Responsible design with respect to the environment and natural forces also have been an undercurrent to our practice."

Showing a slide of Siena, Voith commented, "Anyone who's taken The Form of the City at Bryn Mawr will certainly recognize Siena, shown for its incredibly beautiful piazza. This is a very fine example of an urban environment that has been built slowly over time, in which no one element or monument necessarily takes precedence over the concept of the whole. We started to form for ourselves an anti-heroic notion of architecture, looking back at environments like this that are pedestrian-oriented, people-scaled, and built with a fine notion of technique."

One of the projects in the exhibit is the Hargroves Center for student services and technology at Germantown Friends. Adjacent to the site, on the corner of Germantown Avenue and Coulter Street, an existing building "turned a cold and unfriendly shoulder to the neighborhood, which did not at all reflect the school's incredible open-door policy," Voith said. "We made a small addition to this building to allow it to become the entire middle school. In the design for the Center, we tried to humanize this visual entrance to the school, so that when you turn the corner, you see people." The Center's color and form relate to those of the Meeting House and the main school building; its simple massing and sturdy materials reinforce a Quaker aesthetic.

Voith also discussed VMA's campus renovation and expansion for Moore College of Art & Design. "Moore has a prominent location within the city of Philadelphia, on the Benjamin Frank-lin Parkway near the Philadel-phia Museum of Art, with a view of the cultural institutions that surround Logan Circle," Voith said. "Rather than having a strong historic precedent, its campus is modernist. We were asked to help renovate the campus and add onto it a building, which had been left vacant by the American Society of Testing Materials, to reorganize its entry. Moore wanted a strong presence on the Parkway as the only institution designed for the education of women in the arts, one of only two in the world."

Many Bryn Mawr and Haverford undergraduates have interned with VMA or worked on its staff after graduation. Current bi-co staff includes Marketing Coordinator Laura Kim '02, who helped put togeher the retrospective exhibition.

In addition to the many awards VMA has won for architecture, Voith was voted "Woman to Watch" by Business Philadelphia in 1996.

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